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Northeastern Mississippi is PERFECT for a Child’s Birdwatching Hobby

Northeastern Mississippi is PERFECT for a Child’s Birdwatching Hobby

Many parents struggle to find extracurricular activities for their kids. There are often high costs or strict schedules connected to organized sports or other after school activities. For some kids, getting serious about a new hobby is a more relaxed – and affordable – way to spend extra time during afternoons and weekends.

One such hobby is birdwatching. It might sound at first to be a little old-fashioned, but it’s always appealed to people worldwide, and continues to do so today. It’s actually a great way for parents, kids and grandparents to do something together that’s calming, educational and even at times – when a rare bird is spotted – kind of exciting. 

According to a birdwatching expert, this hobby is perfect for kids in northeast Mississippi who enjoy nature.

Why are birds a great hobby for youngsters?

“Birdwatching is one of the few pastimes which is equally exciting for both novices and professionals,” explained Marc Parnell, author of the recently released bird identification book, “Birds of Mississippi.”  Parnell said it is a perfect thing for kids to explore.

“For kids, finding new birds to add to their ‘life list’ can feel like a dynamic outdoor treasure hunt,” he said. “Different birds are more easily viewable at different times of the year, and in different habitats, offering a variety of potential local excursions to find all of the wonderful avian residents of Mississippi.”

Although younger kids can always enjoy an outdoor birdwatching outing, Parnell said a child really needs to be able to read first to truly benefit from – and get excited about – this peaceful, nature-inspired hobby.

“Parents can buy sets of colorful flashcards to teach their children about some of the various species native to Mississippi,” he said, adding that his book would also be a good resource for helping Coast families know what to look for and what types of birds are in the local area.

Parnell said he first got excited about birding when he was around four years old.

“I was enamored with their unique capacity for flight and their differing migratory schedules,” he reminisced. “Setting up a family bird feeder was probably the most instrumental step in feeding this curiosity and turning it into a full-blown passion.”

What birds should you expect to see in Northeastern Mississippi right now?

“I immediately call to mind the scattered pine woodlands which dot this beautiful region,” Parnell said. “This habitat type hosts the specially adapted Pine Warbler and Brown-headed Nuthatch, the latter of which is the smallest nuthatch in eastern North America. One of three feeder-visiting nuthatches found statewide, the Brown-headed gives calls that sound like a small rubber duck being squeezed!”

He said many warblers, sparrows and thrushes will be migrating into northeastern Mississippi throughout the fall months.

“The mild winter temperatures, which also allow for more bountiful food sources – and the wide variety of woodland habitats – naturally attract millions of these migrating songbirds, making this one of the best locations in the U.S. to find many species in the winter,” Parnell said.

That’s great news for any kid from northeastern Mississippi who has had his or her imagination ignited by our feathered friends!

Parnell said a more rare, and very cool bird for the area that would be a very special treat if you were to sight it would be the Red-breasted Nuthatch.

“Arriving at backyard feeders as early as October, this small bird descends upside-down along tree trunks as it seeks out insects, seeds and nuts,” he explained. “Its calls sound like a raspy, high-pitched bout of laughter, which is sure to amuse and enthrall any nearby listeners.”

Parnell suggested one promising local spot for birdwatching is the area around Davis Lake Campground, located southwest of Tupelo. 

“However,” he added, “any local park, pond or field offers plenty of opportunities as well. Explore your local area first, and then branch out as you begin to seek out more uncommon birds!”

Tools of the Trade

Birdwatching is a free activity, but will be more enjoyable for you and your child if you have some very basic equipment.

“Binoculars are my number-one suggestion for new birders, along with a strong local field guide – such as “Birds of Mississippi”– which is designed with birders of all ages in mind,” Parnell suggested. “When selecting binoculars, I recommend a pair with 7-8x magnification, which seems to be the sweet spot when starting out. Birds tend to resist even our gentlest approaches, and binoculars reduce frustration by bringing their world closer to ours.”

He said a great starter pair of binoculars should cost less than $70. 

For those who want to add a creative element to birdwatching and begin photographing the more rare and beautiful birds, investing in good camera equipment instead of using a smartphone is a good idea if the budget allows.

“A high-zoom lens can do a world of good when photographing,” Parnell said. “I typically use a lower-cost bridge camera when documenting my work, particularly given the inclement weather and busy travel schedule that I often face.”

Hopefully, Parnell’s advice and new book will encourage your family to at least try a birding adventure one weekend when you’re looking for something new. At very least, it will allow you to get outside during the beautiful autumn weather.

About The Author

Kara Bachman

Kara Bachman is a Managing Editor for Parents & Kids. She's also a book editor, former newspaper reporter, and is author of the humor essay collection, "Kissing the Crisis," which deals with the zanier aspects of parenting, relationships and turning 40. She's read her work on NPR radio and over 1,500 items have appeared in dozens of literary and commercial publications, including The Writer, The Erma Bombeck Writers' Workshop, the New Orleans Times-Picayune and, Dogster, Mississippi Magazine, American Fitness and many more. She's a New Orleans native, but lived for over a dozen years on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, including during 2005 when her house was flooded by Hurricane Katrina. She's a mom to two teenagers.

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